Gloria. 1985.


The weather reports are saying Hurricane Irene is “the worst since Gloria”, back in 1985.

I was in Boston for Gloria. Actually in a small town in Eastern Mass., just outside of Concord. The town had a total of 4 traffic lights. Understand that in 1985 no one had cell-phones or smart-phones or broad-band. Dial-up Internet was all there was at best – at 1200 baud if you could afford a “good” modem. So if you lost power or your land-line telephone, you were cut off from the world.

Despite this, and the warnings on TV, everyone went to work as usual on the day of the storm. Most people left a little early, though. The rain started to pick up around mid-afternoon and I went down to the grocery store. By now the skies were darkening and the light outside was kind of eerie. The store had hired a fiddler, dressed in maritime garb – pea-coat, hat, and so on. He was hanging out in between the entry to the store and the check-out lines, playing tunes that sounded completely out of time.

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The whole scene was surreal. But somehow hearing those old tunes helped. The store windows rattled now and again with the wind, but the music kept playing and folks went about their tasks. New Englanders have had to deal with crappy weather since forever. Hurricanes, blizzards, monsoon-like rains, equatorial heat, arctic cold. You name it, we get it. Maybe that old music reminded folks that we were Yankees, and dealing with harsh weather is part of the kit.

Driving home, every station was playing Van Morrison’s “Gloria” in one version or another. By the time I got home, the rain was sheeting down. My grocery bags were drenched and so was I. My apartment building was a three-story brick structure on top of a hillock, so I wasn’t too worried about flooding or direct wind damage. I was worried about the pine trees all around, though.

I put away the groceries, got my candles and hurricane lamp out and set them out on the dining table – just in case – opened the curtains on the balcony door, and turned on the TV.  It was a mess. Boats were washing up onto surface streets and cars were floating out to sea. My apartment was on the third floor and when the wind hit the building face-on, you could feel it. Great. So it came down to a decision of “do I want to end up under the rubble or on top of it?” I decided “on top of it” was probably better than sitting in the lobby downstairs.

As I was channel surfing, I can across something amazing. There was a music-video station in the area then – I think it was called “V66” – that broadcast on UHF. They had stopped their normal and special programming because out in the parking lot across from their building they were watching something amazing. A Boston Edison line worker was out in the storm. Not just out in it, he was up on one of the poles working on the power lines into the building across from where V66 was. You can say he was brave or stupid or both – but I think he was just another stubborn Yankee, doing his job, weather be damned.

Power eventually did go out in my town, but only for an hour. And then, just like that, the storm was over.

Within an hour of the rain stopping, you heard the sounds of chain-saws. No one was waiting around for government aid or any of that. Screw it. We take care of our own. Neighbors with chainsaws helped those who didn’t. Those with pick-up trucks hauled away the debris for those who didn’t. Kids were press-ganged into sweeping and raking – there were leaves, pine needles, pine cones, twigs, and everything else that can fall off a tree all over the place.

Within a few days life was back to normal for those without serious damage to their homes. The bigger branches that fell were converted to firewood, everything was either hauled away to the town dump or burned in large, leafy piles.

What’s interesting to watch in the Irene coverage is how “shocked” national reporters are that people are out in the storm. Local reporters in the Northeast know that they’re supposed to advise people to stay indoors but, come on, those warnings are about as meaningful as traffic laws in Boston – they’re merely suggestions.